TERRE HAUTE —
The ideal setting for a campaign ad is rural Indiana.
Candidates crave to be filmed strolling through rows of bean fields, wearing rolled-up sleeves, jeans and boots, and pointing into the distance, while a farmer in bib-overalls and a grain cap looks on in admiration. Or talking with retirees on the porch of a general store. Or leaning against a produce truck, chatting with the driver inside the cab.
As a memorable “Seinfeld” character would say, “that’s gold, Jerry. Gold.”
And then the film crews leave.
Otherwise, the economic potential of rural Indiana is largely overlooked or written off as a remnant of bygone America. The obstacles facing small towns and farm communities dot their landscape. Many have shuttered school houses, grocery stores, post offices and barbershops. (Such images don’t show up in those “Hoosier values” ads.) A church or volunteer fire department may offer the only tangible signs of cohesion and vitality.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see energy aimed directly at those forgotten places so often portrayed as the backbone of Indiana.
A project generated by Indiana State University should breathe new spirit into villages and wide-spot-in-the-roads.
Last week, the long-named, much-needed Rural-Urban Entrepeneurship Development Institute (or RUEDI) announced plans to create the Wabash Valley Food Hub by next year. The food hub embodies the goal of the institute, which is, in the words of RUEDI coordinator Steven Pontius, “to improve the economic stability of rural and small towns in Indiana through collaboration with local schools, government officials, other educational institutions and business enterprises.”
RUEDI and its food hub are part of ISU’s “Unbounded Possibilities” initiative, which is intended to give the university a distinct niche in the state.
Rural Indiana could grow, literally, to appreciate that attention.
In a nutshell, the food hub will make it easier to buy and sell locally produced fruits, veggies, eggs, meats, fish, dairy products, coffee, honey, herbs, spices and other edibles. The hub will connect local markets and outlets, which would like to offer locally grown items, with local farmers with small- and medium-sized operations. Local consumers who seek more local food will have access to a greater variety.
The word “local” comes up a lot. That’s a good thing.
Anyone who’s compared the taste of home-grown vs. shipped-in tomatoes can understand the value of “local.”
“We don’t know where our foods come from at times. Sometimes, we’re told,” said Jason Saavedra, project manager for the Wabash Valley Food Hub. “That tomato traveled thousands of miles to get to you, when there’s a farmer nearby. You wonder, ‘Why can’t I get that tomato locally?’”
The food hub concept helps solve that mystery.
With that local farmer-to-market-to-consumer network, “if you go into a restaurant and order a salad, the tomato or the lettuce will be local,” Saavedra said. “You won’t see the difference, other than the taste and nutrition.”
There may be some visual signs, such as a Wabash Valley Food Hub logo on products or on the menus as a sign of community spirit — goods raised and consumed here, with local dollars staying in the local economy. (The hub itself will be nonprofit and sustained by memberships. RUEDI is funded through ISU’s $5-million Unbounded Possibilities initiative.)
The increasing demand for local food isn’t a fad. Evidence of its appeal in the Wabash Valley has steadily emerged during the past decade, through the popularity of the Terre Haute Downtown Farmers Market, ag tourism shops such as the Swiss Connection on the Yegerlehner Farm near Clay City, and the formation of the Terre Foods Cooperative. Terre Foods, which seeks to build a member-owned market of organic and locally produced products, will benefit from the food hub, not compete with it, Saavedra said.
“It’s sort of another leg for Terre Foods to stand on,” he explained.
The hub also creates opportunities for people living in rural Indiana. Veteran farmers may add a crop of market-style produce. Young, new farmers may raise chickens or goats, hoping to sell eggs and milk. Tomato farmers may expand.
Research by ISU’s rural institute revealed a gap in the Terre Haute market for local foods, and a significant amount of producers who would like to fill that void, Pontius said. The food hub will “reduce barriers” to that market for those producers, he added. The RUEDI crew continues to gather that research this fall through polls of small business owners, farmers and residents in rural Indiana counties. The concerns addressed go beyond the marketability of Indiana tomatoes to broader issues such as health-care coverage for young farmers.
Those conversations are healthy, just like locally grown tomatoes and hope for small-town farms and businesses.
“Not a great deal has been done to promote the needs of rural Indiana,” Pontius said.
The food hub helps.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
The ideal setting for a campaign ad is rural Indiana.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice
Today’s high school commencement speakers should repeat their speeches in hospital delivery rooms in the months ahead.
MARK BENNETT: American nurses, medics, stranded behind Nazi lines, survived through tenacity, heroism, generosity
A story of survival, perseverance, danger, and extraordinary courage and generosity extended in the midst of war remained untold for decades, but thankfully not forever.
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
MARK BENNETT: Spirited response to a rising river
The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
MARK BENNETT: Littered with irony: Why do people callously discard their trash, and who are they?
Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
MARK BENNETT: Performing under the radar: Toiling for years behind the scenes, Terre Haute native J.T. Corenflos finally earned a splash of musical recognition
People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
Season of Day 2s arrives
Calendars in Cincinnati contain one extra holiday — Opening Day, traditionally the first Monday in April.
MARK BENNETT: Amid tragedy and chaos, the hopeful smiles of youth could not be repressed
The image jars the viewer. On its own, the old photograph appears ordinary. Three smiling kids.
MARK BENNETT: A century later, ‘On the Banks of the Wabash’ still rises above Indiana politics
Music and politics share one commonality — people who like a style different from yours are nuts.
MARK BENNETT: Digit dialing a thing of the past, but telephoning is still a numbers game
You’ve heard of child prodigies who can play Mozart on piano or perform calculus at the age of 5.
That wasn’t me.
MARK BENNETT: After years of preparation, 60 immigrants will gather in Terre Haute on March 14 to pledge their allegiance to the United States of America
It will have been a long and difficult road, but it will be an emotional moment when they raise their right hands and begin the oath of citizenship
MARK BENNETT: The fall and rise of a ‘Young Titan’
Broken. Humiliated. Discarded. Finished.
Few of us think of Winston Churchill in such bleak terms.
MARK BENNETT: Trying to keep momentum of acceptance within the community a key part of Jeff Lorick’s job
Second-graders’ eyes and minds function differently.
They see the future unjaded. Their possibilities stand tall, not yet choked by the adult weeds of prejudice and bitterness.
MARK BENNETT: For Glenda Ritz, being educator, ‘not a politician’ still makes good political sense
Educator, not a politician.
Glenda Ritz emphasizes that distinction about herself.
MARK BENNETT: Falling short of the big prize will produce lessons nonetheless
This is a day for Roman numerals.
Americans seldom use them. And when we do, humility is not our purpose.
MARK BENNETT: Forgotten Message: Advice from ‘The Mick’ should be remembered in wake of Lance Armstrong’s troubles
The two comments were almost identical.
MARK BENNETT: A sense of Americana constant passenger as iconic Corvette motors through milestone birthday
On my last ride at the wheel of a ’Vette, I was a wide-eyed teenager, guiding my brother’s almost-new, orange 1976 model.
MARK BENNETT: Sculptor from North Carolina to capture image of Indiana’s first black state legislator
Well-meaning parents try to instill strong character in their kids.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs,” moms and dads will insist, “even if you stand alone.”
MARK BENNETT: Heart ailments, avoidable health issues affect high numbers of Vigo residents
Many folks in Vigo County will analyze digits on their bathroom scales this month. After all, January and fitness resolutions are traditional partners.
MARK BENNETT: For some people in the Wabash Valley, happy holidays require a little help
Picture yourself as a kid, not yet 5 years old, growing up in a small house in Terre Haute.
MARK BENNETT: Beware Ignorance and Want and reap the benefits of early education
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
MARK BENNETT: In spirit of season, calculate your fiscal cliff impact, then argue
Envision “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
MARK BENNETT: Members of Congress should be free to consider all sides of an issue
Attempting to trump the U.S. Constitution requires some nerve.
MARK BENNETT: An unbudging Congress standing on opposing sides accomplishes little
Sausage patties, hugging a scoop of scrambled eggs and a couple slices of toast on a plate, and chased with nearby steaming black coffee.
MARK BENNETT: Hoosier voters issue mandate on Bennett’s school reforms
Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels and Indiana legislators should respect the votes of 1,315,026 Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Elections, governing would look a lot different if everybody voted
A raffle ticket purchase usually comes with a disclaimer — “you must be present to win.”
MARK BENNETT: On Election Day, as Vigo County goes, so goes the United States
Hempstead sounds like a fine place.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice